Saturday, July 30, 2011

Super Endless Quest - does it sound inviting?

Like I mentioned in my last post, I'm not playing my solo game books to take me through summer slowdowns. I have T&T solos, and I have the Fighting Fantasy books. But, there are a whole truckload of solo gamebooks out there!

I managed to find a couple which actually said "Dungeons & Dragons" on the cover, which was intriguing. Two books found their way into my waiting paws, and the one I'm looking at right now have a Keith Parkinson cover illustration and the inviting title "The Ghost Tower". It's not without some effort I stop myself from writing "... of Inverness" after that. Is there a relation? I don't know yet.

But, what is striking is the enormous series logo above it all proclaiming Super Endless Quest! Is it just me, or doesn't that actually sound a bit discouraging? A quest that goes on and on with all the limitations of the solo format feels very restrictive top me. When doing some research, I found that in the big index at there are indeed if not an endless list at least a very long list of these books.

The game system looks to be something which is quite far from D&D. Actually, it doesn't seem to have any relation to D&D at all! Considering how simple a system D&D can be, when pruned from it's worth excesses like AD&D1 and D&D3, I find it a bit curious that they didn't try to base the rules on D&D. Wouldn't that be an extra sales point if you could take the character in your solo onto further adventures in the dungeons of your friends when playing the full D&D game?

Anyhow, this is a new field of adventure for me and since I know many gamers have tales to tell of being shaped in the forge of Fighting Fantasy I wonder if anyone ever was brought into the fold by the Super Endless Quest books?

Summer slowdown - solo gaming

I'm in the midst of summer vacations, and gaming is now happening less than usual. A few years back I remember a friend saying that soon it would be summer and then there would be more opportunities for games. I've found that instead it means even less. Everyone is gone, to summer houses and trips abroad for those who can afford. But, not wanting to give up I've tried to do some solo gaming.

For many years I saw T&T as that game which was all about solos. I even considered it an odd choice of a game, since I had a gaming group and didn't need such a game. Poor fool I was. Actually, the first contact I had with adventure gaming was through that marvellous little book The Warlock of Firetop Mountain with those fantastic Russ Nicholson illustrations. God knows why I then developed that attitude towards T&T.

Having a pile of T&T solos I grabbed a small volume by Andy Holmes, being one highly regarded solo writer. I have played some of his solos before, but this one Wytches, was new to me. This time it felt there was a story to it, with some quite decent pieces of exposition setting the mood. I started to play it and explored the small village. Walking around talking to people getting to know the story of the solo was a nice change from the kind of solos where you walk from fight to fight. Naturally I finally found myself in a fight, and was squashed like a bug. I had +5 combat adds and had to go up against a monster of +30 or something like that. Might as well have said, "you die" that paragraph. Holmes seem to be very fond of that kind of solo writing where you encounter a monster which is a total TPK waiting to happen. It's not just Holmes doing that, though.

It has been said that "balanced" encounters is a true sign of the decadence of modern editions of the world's most popular rpg. When it leads to players feeling entitled to "challenges" scaled to their level, and treasures as their due I feel it has gone very wrong. That being said, I think monsters which are way out there should at least be very uncommon or possible to avoid. In a solo the possibilities for evasive maneuvers are often not that common, so I prefer those to be random encounters and/or things which the solo writers include an "escape clause" for. Victories won by the skin of your teeth are valued the most, but it's a fine line. I think maybe the subtle queues gained by a GM from her players is needed to gauge when it's time to let the big stomper in on the stage and when the players will just feel harassed by it.

Naturally, I had to bring a Fighting Fantasy book on my vacation as well. That's where it all started after all. City of Thieves, the den of inequity, is where my brave adventurer headed. Once again we have a solo where the main task in not to fight, but to enter a hostile environment to find a person and then having found him scout for the the items of power needed for the main task. The city almost felt like a real place, with a mood of its own when you carefully approach proprietors of different kinds of stores illustrated by the classic look and feel of Fightiong Fantasy artists. I don't think I really appreciated before how much of my imagination of the fantastic have been shaped by these artists.

Once again I run into the limitations of the solo format. Dead ends can, and will, happen when you take one of the paths through the numbers not tested and tried by the authors. To their defence I should say that in a solo of 400 paragraphs that is juist to be expected. You would need a computerized testing suite to find all those possible dead ends. Ian Livingstone have at least prepared for it, writing the paragraph I ended on so that coming there you had to check if you had the needed components before travelling further, a small checkpoint if you like.

It is amazing how this hobby is to its very nature a creative one. Having played these two solos I now find myself wanting to beat them at their game, and write my own! I did it once and that was a mini solo of less than 40 pages, I think. Was it even 20? It was a lot of work. Maybe, just maybe, the summer with its lack of gaming opportunities will be the fount of something after all.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Another way to have tricky games, the Stable system

Yesterday I read about the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and how you sometimes have to metagame and play them more than once, since there are plenty of instant death situations in those books. I realized there are other solutions which could make those "tricky" situations in a non-solo game.

If you use your henchmen like trap detectors the next lot to sign on will demand extra pay, surely. But, what if you use your own PC?

Way back in the days, everyone used to have multiple characters. In the T&T rulebook from 1979 it's even mentioned as the way to do things. So, maybe it's possible to have those tricky dungeons which "demand" to be tested before you can take intelligent decisions. Just send in one of the clones...

What is it about dice?

I have been following the DCC RPG posts in the blogosphere, where people have been giving their expressions about the beta rules. Many have commented on the oddball dice needed. That combined with me reading an issue of Knights of the Dinner Table before falling asleep yesterday, have gotten me started on dice. Have you read Hackmaster? They have a whole chapter in the new Basic game on dice!

What is it with gamers and dice?

Warning, a rant coming up! 

This probably wont win me any friends...

Trust me, I have the collecting bug, so I can understand that angle. I can also understand the aesthetic reasoning of getting hold of a set that matches the mood of the game, or otherwise fitting what you are playing. I mean, I would love to play a game with stone or metal dice if I played a dwarf in a fantasy game.

But, what about the pure superstition about "lucky dice" and idiotic methods of dice rubbing, not letting anyone touch them and so on?! What?

In the KotDT comic, they even have a long running story about a die which curses all other dice around if it's every used for it's "superior" results. The weird thing is, I have heard similar stories in real life.

Whatever you think of Lou Zocchi, his claim that some dice are "lucky" because they are uneven kind of makes sense. In the light of that, it makes even less sense to care about lucky dice. If you really care that much about true random distribution, use those precision dice. If you don't care, grab what you have a roll them bones and have fun. But if you really grab that special die when a important roll is on the line, aren't you really cheating?

Reading the chapter on dice in Hackmaster Basic, a game that no longer is forced to be a parody, I was amazed of how much hogwash and hokey this was. Either it is parody and humour, or it's just as ill fitting in a rpg rule book as a chapter on the body humors in a modern university textbook for physicians.

Are we gamers all just fun and games, or are we a superstitious lot who'd rather be cheating?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Meh! yet another game dies on the vine

I'm seriously miffed. Due to scheduling problems, my latest rpg game have been shelved until next year sometime.


I really need a new local weekly game group!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

[The Shadow of Pavis] Solar System - what makes it cool?

When I posted about me playing a Gloranthan game, I said I would post something more on the game system. Instead of just telling you how it works, I'm going to try to say why it makes me think it a good match for this game.

One of the features of the so called "Solar System", is that you have something called keys. I guess you could say they are late cousins of the Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel. For those of you who became none the wiser from that, I'll say they are triggers for things which gain you XP.

So, the fine things with these keys are that you pick them yourself during character generation. This means you get to decide what you want to do to gain XP! Isn't that kind of sweet, eh?

If you have a key like, Key of Hatred of Uz, then every time your character can show some hatred against trolls, you gain XP. Simple.

The second thing I wanted to mention is Pools. In the basic and generic Solar System, you have three pools of points which you can spend on rolls. All abilities are tied to a pool, and chuck in some of those points and you get to roll more dice and have a far better chance of success.

Like you have figured out by now, that means you can decide when something in the game is important for you and make it pretty likely your character get to shine. Also, it is a pretty cool resource management level in the game.

Thirdly, the best name of a game sub-system ever, is Bringing Down The Pain. I love it. Bringing it down is something you can do in a resisted conflict when you are going to fail, and just wont let it pass that easily. Regularly, you can't kill anybody unless you bring the pain. The vanilla conflict, if it's a fight, is a one roll affair to decide who wins.

When the pain is brought down, you go blow by blow in whatever conflict there is. For all those you you who had played a game which glosses over the nitty gritty when you wanted to dive in, this is where it shines. Having a mechanic like this makes it possible to customize when you want to have an involved game system and you just want to move on.

So why would all this make it a good fit for Glorantha? Well, I think that in a world where the mythic and the mundane are juxtaposed like they are in Glorantha, it's crucial to be able to decide when to "zoom in". RQ always had the same scale on things. I means, in a percentile system everything goes from 1 - 100 since that's the maths, right? It always makes it a bit wonky when you try to mix in godlike abilities and the fact that the power scale between a dirt farmer and some of the movers and shakers are so huge. HeroQuest/Wars tried to remedy that with "masteries" for every 20 steps of an ability, and they could then cancel each other out to reduce the system to a manageable level. While that is kind of neat, I think the Solar System manages something similar in a way more too my liking.

Another thing I like with the Solar System is the idea of gift dice. It is a neat way to make communal support a part of the system. In Glorantha you usually can't make much happen without the backing of someone else.

Most important though, I have always wanted to test the system! Now I had, and it was fun.

Friday, July 1, 2011

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